Anindita Sengupta’s “Arambol, Goa” [Read the poem here]
(First published in Issue #3 of Cha)
-This post by Sumana Roy was awarded the Third Prize in the Fine Tea Competition 2011.
The sea is an unrhymed sonnet in every lover, every parasite feeding on an incessant wet dream. For we might leave our souls behind on some dirty laundry trips, but water we carry with us at all times. Water carries us to wherever we want to go to, pushing us up mountains, defying gravity, melting footsteps into sweat, crushing fingertips into strange juices of insanity. I came to Anindita Sengupta’s poem, “Arambol, Goa”, to be a sailor. I’d tired of land, of its animals and grass. It was slipperiness I wanted. I’d been anchored too long, and for too little. I’d looked at lighthouses from land, and without consequence. I wanted a life at sea, I wanted a stake in its uneven journeys and its intangible undulations, I wanted to feed on the uncertainty of the horizon. I wanted to be, in all squeezed senses, ‘at sea’. Land was a silver cage, its seasons too predictable, its loves too fenced, its words too tongue-tied. The sea was a coin which would flip to my mood. Or so I hoped. And so, I came to sea.
Anindita’s poem is less about a life in the sea in Goa than it is about an escape from water. Timid violence lurks in every run-on line, something moves in every couplet, motion is an internal punctuation, and yet the viewer’s eyes are still. The beach in Goa is like a sentence crowded with thoughts, and yet, after all, it is only a sentence on a printed page, and even though it has the capacity to move, it cannot move. And so, I remain on land. Its immovability crawls back into my surname, its different gravities into my palm. The cell phone beeps, vibrates, warns, withdraws and then nags again. I only wait to be washed by the sea, washed off all the regimes of land. I’m a convert without a religion. Water is a priest with a promise. Until the promise changes to blur. The lighthouse becomes a direction-amnesiac.
Anindita’s poem, her sea, the ‘hashish in the air’ (L1), and its loop of expectation, ‘is a dancing / thing’ (L1-L2). There is a pattern to the movements in the poem: like Newton’s action-reaction binary, the ‘I’ in her poem reacts to the happenings on the beach. The girl’s hands are ‘like two shells in sleep’ (L3), the bartender brings his foot down on a crab. Reaction? ‘I eat [a] tuna salad’ (L6). The boys on the beach turn over in their sleep, ‘the one-eyed man’ (L8) cups his face. Reaction? ‘A blue boat is a blemish / I could rub away’ (L11-L12).
This illusory quiet, like a child’s crayon doodle of the sea, is inescapable, and so I surrender. I mistake it, willingly, for peace. I think of all the promises made to me by men who wore their love like tattoos, who knew my weakness for the sea. They all promised the sea, and so their promises come like slices fitting in together, like the pieces of a birthday cake that have been taken back from eaters. That makes my sea a temporary mosaic, a prism which catches a new light as I turn it in my eyes. I abandon this sea. It is not mine, not any longer. The man with whom I now share the sunrise has no fishing net. He has fishing-rod eyes instead. When he opens his eyes every morning, the previous night’s catch erupts in them. I get knife and salt, and I kill for meat though never for food. I kill them to keep them alive — how much could dreams and the sea hold?
raises his foot and brings it down on a
crab, spilling its meat onto the sand, leaving
a pattern in entrails.
And, hence, the leftovers. Dreams spill over in surplus too often into our sunlit lives. They need washing, they need washing. I get soap and clothes-clips. Leftovers leave such stubborn stains. I scrub the insides of dreams — mine, and everyone else’s about me. Water forfeits all claims. They move in the soft breeze, they whisper in a new language. We abandon each other. Dreams are such orphans.
Water is a runaway bride. Water is a coattail I love to step on. Water is a religion by which I mark my footprints. After the day’s spelling competitions, I surrender to Anindita’s poem again. I read it as if it were the last page of my horoscope. And then I find it: ‘In the distance, a blue boat is a blemish / I could rub away, a // transgression’ (L11-L13).
I had so long been looking only for oars, for paddles, for steam. I was looking at water as if it were a perfection, a mirror without internal refraction. It was to be my antidote to the regimes of land, and it had failed me. I had held it in a glass, on my skin, in my hair, on my tongue, a crest and trough of prepositions, and I’d expected the tiny dewdrop to be my private planet. How wrong I’d been. I hadn’t climbed on water, on gargling uncertainties, on choppy fantasies. I hadn’t been a ‘blue boat’ (L11). Only water can wash water. I hadn’t tried to wash myself with myself. I had expected people, and the fountains of events they brought into my life, to be detergents. In the process, I had become bubble-land.
Now I became a boat, a ‘blue boat’ that gives the horizon the texture of hope and the symbolism of communion. I was not a real boat, only a blue boat with red-piping dreams. I was a boat in a child’s drawing. I could be ‘rubbed’ away. I was ‘a transgression’. I was a Saturday morning art school invention. Blue was the colour of my insanity, of my water dreams. An angry child could kill me. An art teacher could kill me. And water, that bowl of liquid which gives ‘water colour’ its first name, could kill me in a single flood. Water could be my poison. And I’d thought it Noah’s ark!
I still go to the beach with wet feet, the ant like sand gives my feet their mariner’s compass. The beach, instead of being fed with an iterant wetness, the chubbiness of water stroking its margins of existence, ‘burn(s) in its silent, unstoppable way’ (L14). I sit on the beach that the poem sat on, we burn together, the poem and I, the girl continues to sleep with her shell-hands, one-eyed men behave like mermen. But where is water? And so now, I go to the sea to burn. ‘Such violence / on gentle shores is common’ (L9-L10).
Anindita Sengupta‘s [website] poetry has appeared in Muse India, Talking Poetry, Kritya and In Other Voices (an anthology by Delhi Poetree). She was the winner of the Toto Awards for Creative Writing in 2008. When not penning verse, she works for the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) and consults with Fida, an international development organisation. She also writes on arts, culture and development for various newspapers. Deeply committed to gender issues, she is founder and editor of Ultra Violet, India’s first online community of feminists.